Paul Pogba offers Manchester United both a solution and a problem
There were a number of puzzled looks in the London Stadium away end when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked to change the game with his substitutions on Sunday afternoon.
Manchester United had dominated much of the encounter against West Ham at the weekend but as frustrations grew they looked to transform the swing of things by bringing Jesse Lingard and Jadon Sancho into the equation.
Solskjaer had already been lambasted in midweek for getting his changes wrong in late defeat to BSC Young Boys, such criticism only made it sweeter to see Tuesday’s villain turn hero as Lingard curled in a stupendous winner.
David de Gea would yet have a crucial role of his own to play as he saved his first penalty kick in five years to deny substitute Mark Noble in the final seconds of the match. Solskjaer got his changes right, David Moyes did not.
The United manager had effectively selected his starting line up based on the players who he trusted the most, leaving Donny van de Beek and Sancho on the bench from the start while Scott McTominay was thrown straight into action after his successful groin surgery last month.
“He’s always been a physical monster and a specimen,” Solskjaer told MUTV of the Scotland international, though he is not the only player who warrants such a description in the United midfield.
His teammate on the left wing Paul Pogba is also a proverbial ‘monster’ in attack and in his favoured left wing role he is back to his best in a United shirt with the attacking freedom which he craves.
Part of the reason why he is so successful in the new role is because he has support from an in-form Luke Shaw to accompany him, a new world-class partnership that has added an extra element to United’s approach.
In the set-up United have the benefit of Pogba cutting into the channels and whipping inswinging crosses into the box while Shaw attacks the bylines and fires in outswingers, two contrasting options of threat that perfectly suit the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo.
This role could well prove to be crucial in convincing Pogba of a long-term future at Old Trafford, a particularly pressing issue after the latest comments from agent Mino Raiola last week as he refused to rule out a return to Juventus.
It is no secret Pogba prospers on the left wing but to indulge in such a luxury an abundance of other United attackers need to miss out, a problem which will be harder to solve when Marcus Rashford returns to action next month.
Anthony Martial, already out-of-favour, is better used out wide with Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani ahead of him in central attack, Lingard won it from that wing on Sunday and summer signing Sancho also looks more comfortable with an inverted role rather than on the right wing.
Throw into the mix further complications that young duo Anthony Elanga and Shola Shoretire both favour similar left-sided roles and there is an argument to suggest United have seven candidates to fill the role depending on circumstance.
The elephant in the room is that Pogba is yet to commit his long-term future to United and it could be argued that the side should not be built around the talents of a player who could yet leave them for free at the end of the season.
Perhaps the true acid test of Solskjaer’s vision for the club will not be the summer recruitment of serial winners Ronaldo and Raphael Varane but proving he can convince Pogba to stay while also keeping his positional rivals happy too.
Pogba on the left wing is certainly the best short-term solution as United look to end their overdue trophy drought but the long-term repercussions could see more than just him looking to leave the club.